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General Psychology


Study Skills for Success in College

There are several keys to success in college. This document gives you some hints on how to succeed in college. Some hints are more relevant for face-to-face classes but even those have some value for online students.

A. Time

Time is the critical element in success in college. If you use your time well, you will do better in classes. Taking college courses involves a great deal of time. The rule of thumb is that for every hour in class,  each class requires 2-3 hours outside of class per week for minimal success. This time (6-9 hours per week plus 3 hours in class) does not include extra time for studying for tests or long-term projects. Some students may be able to succeed with less time but most students need this amount of time in order to do well and learn the material. Summer school courses cover the same amount of material in fewer weeks and thus they require more hours per week.

To manage your time, there are several things you can do. First, make a plan. In other words, map out your time. Create a schedule for each day. Sometimes it is helpful to monitor your time for a few days to see where you spend your time. Most of us have much more time than we think. We often waste time. When you create a schedule, make sure to leave yourself some relaxation time. However, when we are in school, we sometimes have to give up some social activities.

Make yourself both a weekly schedule as well as a long-term semester schedule. Your weekly schedule should include study time as well as time to work on projects due down the road. Your semester long plan should include time for studying for tests and for working on long-term projects.

Some hints about scheduling:

1. Eliminate hours that are wasted or dead
2. List your priorities and schedule according to those. Avoid too much detail; it's 
harder to follow a schedule that has 10 minute blocks . Aim for 30 minute  blocks.
3. Know your sleep patterns. Don't plan to study at 11 p.m. if that is not a good  time for you.
Don’t plan to get up early and study at 5 a.m. if you are not a morning person.
4. Plan blocks of time for studying. Some studying can be  done in small chunks such as
learning vocabulary words but most elements requires longer blocks of at  east 45 minutes.
5. Schedule time for sleep. Sleep is crucial if your brain cells are to recharge.
6. Start long-term jobs early. Most people underestimate the amount of time required for projects.
7. Prepare your materials to take advantage of unexpected blocks of time. Have notes to review
on hand; make  flashcards of vocabulary words. For some students recording the text chapters can be helpful.

B. Note-Taking

Note-taking is another skill that is crucial for success in college. You should look over the chapter on memory in an Introduction to Psychology text for some hints on studying. Remember that we need to transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory if we are to retain it permanently.

There are two different types of notes: notes on the text and lecture notes. When you take lecture notes, there are several tactics. Some of these are only relevant to face-to-face classes but many are relevant for taking notes on your own.

1. Sit up front where you can see and hear better.
2. Attend all lectures; it keeps continuity.
3. Come prepared with enough paper and working pens/pencils.
4.  Write in short phrases that are understandable to you. You don't have to use complete sentences in your notes.
Make sure your shorthand notes are understandable to you.
5. Write legibly. If you can't read what you write then the notes are worthless.
6. Try not to write down everything. Listen (or read) for main ideas and key points.
7. Some key words and phrases to which you should pay particular attention include: for example, cause/effect  words, emphasis words and repeat words.
8. Review the previous day's notes and readings before coming to class.
9. Review your notes immediately after the lecture so that you can clarify what you meant and make legible
anything that is unreadable. You can also expand on things that you did not have time to write out fully.
10. Don't doodle; it’s distracting. Pay attention to the lecture.

Notes on the text reading are different since you have more control over the total environment. There are several techniques that will enable you to do a better job of taking notes on the text. To begin with, you should read each chapter 3 times. Before a lecture, you should skim the appropriate chapters. If you have some familiarity with the topic, the lecture will make more sense. If you are taking an online course, skim the chapter the first time. It will familiarize you with both the content and layout and will make the second reading more fruitful. On the second reading, you will take notes and endeavor to fully understand the material. The third reading occurs before the test. On the third reading, you will review the content, especially the main ideas.

First: be cautious about how much you underline or highlight. Most students underline far too much. Highlighting is supposed to be for MAIN IDEAS, not the entire chapter. Before you begin, read the preface which will give you a road map to what the author is trying to do and what techniques the author will be using.

There are many methods for reading textbooks such as the SQ3R (study, question, read, recite, review). Here are my hints for reading a textbook.

Don't try to read and take notes on the entire chapter at one sitting. Most psychology texts have many logical breaks.

Read one section at a time. Then, think about what that section is saying. What questions come to mind? Can you generate potential test questions from the section? How is it related to previous material in the chapter?

Keep a dictionary handy so that you can check words that are not in the glossary.

Continually ask yourself if you understand the material.

Reflect on the material.

After you have read the section and thought about the material, go back and highlight the MAIN POINTS. Next do your notes or outline. You cannot outline effectively as you read the first time because you will not know what the main ideas are.

While this may take more time than your previous methods of studying, it does produce more learning and remembering. It takes advantage of what we know about rehearsal and long-term storage.

Finally, look over the end-of-the-chapter material. Can you define the vocabulary words? Can you answer the questions? Completing the exercises in the Student Study Guide can also help you see where you need more review.

C. Test-Taking

Tests usually cause great anxiety for most students. There are some techniques for test taking that can help you ease that anxiety. First, realize that any test can only test a subsection of material. The key is to study that subsection of material. You may get hints about what an instructor considers important from study guide questions and from lectures. If you attend lectures, study the material as outlined above and review for the test, you should be in good shape and thus your anxiety should not be over-the-top.

Once you get to the test, there are several techniques to help you do better.


Read over the entire test before beginning. That way you will be able to allocate time for each question. Look at the number of questions and the point values of each. Set times for each section and STICK TO THEM. Do not spend 30 minutes on a multiple choice question worth 2 points.

Read the directions and make sure you follow them.

Make sure your answers are legible.
READ each question before answering.

For each type of question, there are also some guidelines that can help you do better on this particular type of question. Note that these hints are predicated upon your having studied and knowing the material.


Watch for qualifiers such as always and none.
These questions are usually (but not always false).
Check each part of the question if it has more than one part.
If any part is false, the whole question is false.
Note that these often say “best” – that means only one answer is correct.
Watch for negative prefixes and words. (i.e. im, not, ir, non, etc.)

Multiple Choice

Read the directions carefully. They may tell you if there is only one answer or several potential answers.
Read the question first - don't read the answers which are called distracters.
See if you can answer the question before you look at the options.
If you can answer it, try to match your answer to one of the options.
Read ALL the options for answers.
If you don't know the answer, try to eliminate some of the options.
Follow the true/false rules as well.
Silly options are usually wrong.
Pay particular attention to "all of the above" and "none of the above."


Read the directions carefully. Is only one answer correct or can there be more than one correct answer?
Glance over the items to see how many items there are in each column.
Begin with the first item in the left column. Read all the items in the right column and find the best match for the first item. Fill in the item. If you are allowed, mark off the answer in the right column.
Make sure your answers are legible and distinct.


Read the directions to ascertain how many questions you are to answer. Look at the point value of the essay.
Pay attention to the required length of the answer.
Read the questions carefully, Answer the question asked.
Use specific examples and supports for your answer.
Pay attention to grammar and spelling, especially words connected to the question and names printed on the test itself.
While the hints will not guarantee you an "A", they will make you a better student and should help you to do better in the course and to learn the material better.

Study Skills Websites

St Thomas University Minnesota - study guides and strategies. A very comprehensive site
A compendium of study skills
Virginia Tech - study skills online - this is an award winning site
Ah-Clem site reviews Study Skills websites and points to various helpful
sites that will save you time searching